Primary Upset?

Yesterday’s Ann Arbor City Council primary provided two notable results:  an incumbent was (provisionally) defeated; and an incumbent was (resoundingly) re-elected.  Both meant an upset for the Council Party.

Leigh Greden, the 3rd Ward council member who was narrowly defeated by Stephen Kunselman, was in some sense the “ringleader” of the CP.  As the main instigator of many of the council emails, for which he was berated in an advertisement in the print edition of the Sunday before the election, he was clearly vulnerable to any and all of the negative feelings that voters have about the current council.  It is truly remarkable that as an incumbent with endorsements from virtually every heavy political hitter in the city (including our Congressman, John Dingell, who really should give up this practice of endorsing in primaries) would lose in a three-way race.  Greden is naturally requesting a recount and shouldn’t be buried yet.  But since the unofficial totals show that he received only 36.1% of the vote, that means that nearly 64% of the voters who went to the polls in the 3rd ward voted against Greden.

In contrast, Mike Anglin, the 5th Ward incumbent, won by 65% of the vote.  On the surface, this might not seem so remarkable, since an incumbent is usually thought to have the advantage.  His opponent, Scott Rosencrans didn’t have the stellar endorsements that Greden did, but his position as the CP candidate is clearly shown by  kingmaker Leah Gunn’s name at the top.  Anglin was detested and ridiculed by the CP, who at one point in the emails indulged in some especially cruel references to a box of chocolates. His strong victory can only be seen as a refutation of their positioning of him. I thought that a remark on Arbor Update that “Rosencrans was untainted by any scandal and had reasonable experience on city boards and commissions” was perceptive.  Rosencrans was a good candidate – personable, experienced, with a long history and plenty of friends in the community; and he seemed to work hard at his campaign.  Anglin’s victory was not only a solid validation of his own positions, but a rejection of the positions and actions of the CP.

Longtime political observer David Cahill notes that total voter turnout was higher this year than in the previous “off-year” election.  (Note: even-numbered years often have primaries for higher offices, but Ann Arbor City Council elections are also held in odd-numbered years.  The absence of higher offices on the ballot usually means a much reduced turnout.) According to Cahill’s calculations, voter participation rose 29% in the 3rd Ward compared to 2007, while there were 20% more ballots cast in the 5th Ward. (Both wards had actively contested seats in 2007.)  He attributes the rise to the threat of a city income tax (Greden is a major supporter).  Others have pointed to the council emails (Greden was a major offender). But neither of these explain the result in Anglin’s case, since neither candidate has taken a strong position as of yet on the income tax and Rosencrans was not implicated in the emails.

My take on it was that this election was the equivalent of the polling question, “Do you think the (city) is on the right track or the wrong track?”.  I think that we just heard that 65% of the voters in two wards said “wrong track”.  There are two pieces to this: city finances and the threats to neighborhood integrity and quality of life.  We have two examples of the latter coming up for action in the near future.  As I reported back in April, out-of-scale developments are proposed for two of our near-downtown neighborhoods that will violate the tenets of the Central Area Plan and at least in one case destroy historic buildings that are a real asset to the community.  Both of these will apparently be presented to Council as PUDs. Planned Unit Developments are supposed to bring real public benefits in exchange for this gift of rezoning beyond the requirements of the original zoning district.  But both are vigorously opposed by active neighborhood groups.  (The Near North proposal is on the Council August 6 agenda for first reading, remarkably without the PUD plan being completed; a public meeting is scheduled for the City Place newest PUD reincarnation on August 12; some council members seem to have already made up their minds about it.)

So  – will this negative “poll result”  give pause to members of the Council Party?  That will remain to be seen.  I hope that we don’ t have some October surprises. In October 2007, they passed the first enabling resolution for the new city hall, just before new council members were seated.

Update: For another take on the Third Ward race, read Alice Ralph’s post.  Ralph was a candidate for council in 2006 and was narrowly defeated by Stephen Kunselman in a three-way race.

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3 Comments on “Primary Upset?”

  1. Amy Seetoo Says:

    Dear Vivienne,
    Thank you very much for your very thoughtful and insightful election result analysis. I would like to share with you my observation. I don’t live in the 5th Ward, and what I know is purely from hearsay and what I read from the Ann Arbor News before its demise.
    I thought the election result in the 5th Ward reflects the fact that some voters tend to be turned off by the campaign style that reminded people of the “Swift Boats” campaign in the 2004 Presidential Election. In Ann Arbor, candidates would be better emphasizing what they themselves have done, rather than what the opponents allegedly did or did not do.

    • varmentrout Says:

      Yes, you have a valid point, Amy. Mr. Rosencrans made some allegations, in at least one letter and apparently door-to-door, that were about Mike Anglin’s attendance at meetings. At least some of those were demonstrably false. I think that was a serious tactical error. Whether it influenced a particular voter in the absence of the other factors I mentioned, we’ll never know.

  2. Another thoughtful analysis, Vivienne. From my own, outsider’s viewpoint (I live in Scio Township), I’d agree that there is tremendous disillusionment with several of the current CP members, and there’s been support for Mike taking stands that were both unpopular (and in the eyes of many) necessary. But this is more “through the grapevine” information.

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